Kevin McCarthy Rolls Over for Donald Trump, Like a Dog
The meeting itself, at Trump’s golf course, of course, was a show of dominance from the party’s real leader to its House “leader.”
So Kevin McCarthy met with Donald Trump (“Much to discuss!”), and I’m struggling to come up with an analogy for taking a meeting with someone who (according to you) “bears responsibility” for an insurrection that tried to overthrow the peaceful transfer of power just before the House minority “leader” announces his picks to serve on the select committee looking into what happened on Jan. 6.
The problem, of course, is the unprecedented nature of what Trump did—and is doing. Of course, Trump remains the de facto leader of the Republican Party, which is to say he has incredible influence without any statutory authority. Technically speaking, Kevin McCarthy has more formal authority, but good luck with that. Truth be told, meeting with Trump is sort of like meeting with the head of state of some foreign country: Trumpistan. They have weird customs, speak a foreign language, and worship an idol. They have lots of weapons, know how to use them, and—oh yeah—also determine if you get your next job promotion.
For this reason, it makes sense that McCarthy would have to meet for Trump. But couldn’t they exercise a little discretion? Again, Trump is the guy who just tried to overthrow the government. Every five minutes, more horrific revelations emerge. Less than 24 hours ago, leaks about Trump’s “Reichstag moment” surfaced. Sometimes, in these cases, people hold secret meetings. One could imagine a scenario where Kevin McCarthy realizes it would be unseemly and unwise to be seen with Trump, and where Trump also accepts this reality. In this scenario, Trump and McCarthy might secretly gather at some conclave to plot the future, with Trump—sub-rosa—calling the shots. Going through the motions of secrecy would be a nod to normalcy, which is why Trump prefers to flaunt it.
It’s also a sign of dominance. The meeting, after all, is at Trump National at Bedminster, New Jersey. Nobody goes to Jersey unless they’re under duress. Kevin McCarthy is under duress. He’s rolling over like a dog, as Trump might say. Their last meeting (that we know of) was at Mar-a Lago, in case you are looking for a trend.
If we’ve learned anything from Jack Donaghy’s “Negotiate to Win,” it’s that home turf advantage is key (besides, this way Trump can ensure he gets a taller chair and an extra scoop of ice cream). This is a game. When candidate Trump summoned then-RNC Chairman Reince Preibus to Trump Tower, it was already over. They might as well have just given Trump the nomination then. Ever since Napoleon summoned the pope from Rome to Paris (where he crowned himself), this has been true.
Forget kissing the ring, the implicit point is that McCarthy is performatively licking the bottom of Trump’s shoes (and I’m keeping it clean, here). Trump, not McCarthy, is the leader of the Republican Party. Trump can be the 2024 presidential nominee if he wants. Or he can be the Speaker of the House (assuming Republicans take back the House). Or he could probably get Kevin McCarthy to dress up like Little Bo Peep if he wants. He is the master, and when the master summons you, you go.
At least this meeting ostensibly has a purpose (unlike most meetings normal Americans are subjected to), ostensibly to discuss the midterms, special elections, and fundraising—and more likely to help pick Republicans to fill five positions in a 13-member Democratic-led committee.
Now, Nancy Pelosi has a veto, which means that this agenda item, like so many agenda items, might be pointless. Still, I would suppose that names like Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert would be bandied about, if for no other reason than to force Pelosi to nix them. Pelosi has already named Republican Liz Cheney, who had been the number three Republican in the House before McCarthy demoted her for speaking the truth, instead of Trump’s “truth,” about what happened on Jan. 6.
On that day, according to Carol Loennig and Philip Rucker’s new book about Trump’s last year, Cheney recalled that “While these maniacs are going through the place, I’m standing in the aisle and he said ‘We need to get the ladies away from the aisle. Let me help you.’ I smacked his hand away and told him, ‘Get away from me. You fucking did this.’ ”
That is to say that what Trump wants, and McCarthy will do on his behalf, is ensure that this all feels futile and performative. After all, he wouldn’t want it to look like institutions functioned properly, or that an investigation into what happened on Jan. 6 was serious and competent and on the level. And McCarthy, who’s said that he would testify about what happened that day if need be, will do what the boss says to ensure that doesn’t happen.
The Republican Party used to stand for something; now it just stands behind Donald.